Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Endings and Anarchy

Did anyone see the season finale of Sons of Anarchy? I was trying to tell my sister about this, and she said her co-worker Missy is also watching it, and she'd direct her to the blog. So Missy, this one's for you, if you're out there.

Now this makes me think about endings, and this is important: The ending tells what's really important. How the characters resolve the various conflicts is how you tell the reader who they really are, and what they really stand for, and what they really value. But it also tells what your whole story is ultimately about-- the theme. That's actually why good books so often go bad in the ending, I think, because they don't truly let the reader know what's important. The ending should give the reader events that show the characters and who they are now and what matters, after all else.

Well, the end of Sons of Anarchy shows a lot, but above all it shows that it's about fathers and sons. (There's a daughter too, the archvillain's.) At the center is the powerful romance between Gemma and Clay, but her actions here in the end show that she doesn't trust this, doesn't trust his love, doesn't maybe even want him to love her above all (she is selling him short, I think, but this part is definitely from her POV). Gemma has just been framed by the FBI lady for a murder (committed actually by the FBI lady). At that very moment-- and see how effectively events are stacked here in the end, so that there's no downtime at all, and no let-up of pacing), Clay and her son (his stepson) Jax are in the process of avenging her gangrape by ambushing the evil overlord. Now Gemma is, more than Clay actually, the keeper of the motorcycle gang code. She knows that by this code, their revenge and the taking back of the power of the town is all important. And she doesn't interfere with it.

Instead, she calls Wayne, the sheriff. He's an old friend, and probably in love with her, and he has confided to her that he is dying of cancer. Somehow she knows that he will help her, that his own code as a lawman will be secondary to his desire to help her-- and I think because it is not HER code, she is fine with this. And he does-- he helps her escape. She apparently never thinks to call her husband or her son (although I think they've both shown they love her and would put her first-- this is her choice, to let them do their work).

However, Jax (the son) gets a panicked call from his girlfriend, and rather than go through with the ambush, he decides to go with her (choosing love over revenge, and showing what he values). But interestingly, he says to Clay, "I have to go to her," and waits for his permission. This is (for those of us who love this relationship) where he shows that he once again accepts Clay as his father, as the authority, after a season of hating him. Clay does not do as Clay would have done earlier, asserted that authority and ordered him to finish the job of the gang. Rather he shrugs yes, and even orders one of the others to "go with your brother", thereby depleting the hit squad by a third.

Then Jax discovers that his own baby son has been kidnapped by the Irishman (who thinks Gemma killed his son-- that's the murder the FBI lady is framing her for): "A son for a son". Jax calls Clay and says only, "I need you." Clay abandons the ambush and immediately goes to Jax, telling the others, "Irish took my grandson." He chooses love over revenge, but here it's love of son/grandson. Before, his revenge was a sign of his love for his wife, but here he shows that actual love-- being with a loved one in crisis-- is more truly --now-- what he knows to be love.

(Okay, details matter!! First, he has always identified Jax as his son and Abel as his grandson, but Jax has deliberately this season referred to him as "my stepfather/not my real father". See how precisely this is written-- today, Jax says, "I need you." That's all we hear, but that is a son talking to his father, isn't it? And as Clay is talking on the phone, he's holding the phone with his left hand. Hands are very important with Clay, because his hands are becoming crippled with arthritis. On that left hand is his wedding ring. Now the director could just as easily made that the right hand, but it's the left, and the ring is showcased-- the symbol of the wedding that brought him Gemma, but also brought him Jax as a son.)

In contrast is Zobelle, the evil one, and he is definitely sorry his beloved daughter is killed (by Gemma, but in self-defense). He really is. But when he amazingly escapes death by Clay (because Clay has gone to his son), Zobelle runs, getting on the plane that he chartered. Again, watch the precision of the staging here. The clerk asks him if his daughter is coming, and he says no-- that is, the writer has shown that Zobelle does not veer from his plans because of his daughter. This doesn't happen just in his head, or offstage, but right there in the action of the scene. I think it's important to SHOW the changes and the changing in the ending-- give the reader the ammunition. (Zobelle is played by Alan Arkin's son, btw, and has that sort of grave good humor that goes interestingly with villainy.) "We adjust and adapt," he tells the clerk, showing that he has not been changed by the events. That's his character theme, actually-- "We adjust and adapt," but for him, he adjusts but doesn't actually adapt-- a refusal to adapt his values and his agenda to the circumstances. Interestingly, in this he resembles Gemma, who loves fiercely, but cannot change her certainty that the code matters more than love does.

Jax and Clay, however, show how much they have changed. Both have chosen love over revenge, and love over their code of honor. In the end, they even choose love over what they think of as manhood (protecting what's theirs). Jax cannot save his son (let's hope there's another season), and collapses, and Clay grabs him and holds him up, and the end shows the two of them embracing and weeping. For such macho guys, this is a transformation.

But this ending-- and ending HERE-- shows that this is about parental/paternal love, not romantic love, or honor or manhood. This closes the circle of the season, which started out with Jax rejecting Clay as his father.

By "allowing" her men to continue with the revenge, Gemma is paridoxically liberated from the claustrophobically intense love that ties her to her husband and son and forces her into venerating a macho code that has injured her. She accepts rather the less complicated love of friendship instead. Her parental love has been exhibited throughout the season, but here she is breaking free of the tie that binds. (I'm sure she'll come back.) The conflict for her has always been what she has willingly given up for that love-- her love for Clay leads to her being raped, and her love for Jax has confined her to a continuing mother role (she's pretty much raising his son). She also, as Keeper of the Code and matriarch to the club, has always given up what matters to her for what's required by the code. She's never counted the cost, but now she knows that her freedom is more important than continuing in her Leather-Madonna role.

SO what does this show:

1. The ending is where you decide what the theme is, what the story is really about, what really matters-- and your final scenes should show that.

2. The ending should have characters act in a way that demonstrates how and if they've changed.

3. If some characters haven't changed, that shows something about them, doesn't it?

4. Write precisely here. Make the characters' dialogue and actions say what you want to demonstrate. At this stage, the ending, the characters are raw and true, all their defenses stripped away by the plot events. At this point, they will speak more truly than they have ever before, so let them speak.

5. Watch your staging and adapt it to your purpose. Show that something's important by "surrounding" it with conflict. For example, when Clay calls off the ambush, one of the brothers protests. That highlights that Clay is going against what's expected, and what seems sensible. Similarly, the clerk asking Zobelle about his daughter sets up the display of his inability to change, his central coldness. The scenes are set up and the events are structured so that these important points can be made.



Merc said...

Fantastic post, thanks! :D I've not watched the finale yet (plan to when I get up) but I've been looking forward to it, and I think you make great points about endings. *saves for reference*

Vonna said...

Thanks for this finale round up, especially point #4.

Leona said...

I don't even watch the show and I felt this ending from earlier posts and this one. Good post.

Falen said...

this was an awesome post. I think you highlighted many things that i had internalized but never fully examined.

Also i think i need to watch that show, it really sounds like something i'd love

Monica McCarty said...

My hubby and I have been watching SOA from day 1 and think it is the best written show out there right now. Your post is a fantastic analysis of the reasons why! You could teach a class on story writing just from this season. I thought the story arc, especially as it related to gemma, was brilliant. The scene were she brings Clay and Jax together by relating the facts of her rape was the highlight for me. I was sad to see Zobelle's daughter and the young Irish guy go, but I know it had to be done. Sigh. I'm a sucker for wanting the Romeo and Juliet HEA, LOL. IMO Jax is the perfect antihero--right up there with Tony Soprano and Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me.

Edittorrent said...

Monica, what did you think the Gemma ending means?
I just love that Wayne is the one who takes her away. He is SO in love with her. And I don't doubt this is all he needs-- that she has turned to him when she is in trouble. He's dying-- he doesn't need her to pledge her life to him. But he is happy now, knowing how deeply she trusts him. Sniffle. When he takes her hand as they're driving out of Charming...

And of course, as a Gemma fangirl, all I can say is, "She wants to give him that. She understands that he needs that."

She's a great queen.

John Harper said...

It sounds like a pretty awesome show. Thanks for the detailed analysis. Of course if it ever comes to these shores, i'll already know whats going on ;)

Monica McCarty said...

I'm a huge Gemma fangirl, too. Katy Segal is fabulous--such a queen is right. I love the relationship between Gemma and Wayne, too, and I think you have it dead on--they understand exactly what the other needs and are fine with that.

I think there was delicious irony in Gemma's ending. In the car with the doc she identifies her "purpose" in life--family--and thinks she's doing right by the family in going after Zobelle's daughter. But the result of her actions is to set off a chain of events that threatens/puts at risk the one innocent in the family who they all love so much--the baby. It also enables Zobelle to go "free." I can't wait for next season!

Sharla said...

LOVE this show. And I totally watched the finale as a writer, and told my husband, "They've left everything perfectly aligned for the next season. They set the plot points geniusly." You have the Gemma dynamic thinking she's doing this for her family, yet leaves with no word to her family, and has no idea what's happened. You have Jax now on a mission to find his son, who was stolen by the man who THINKS Jax's mother killed HIS son, but really killed Zobelle's daughter. Zobelle is still around, which had to be because if they'd killed both him and Weston, it would have tied the story up too neatly. And now he'll have a whole new purpose of revenge of his own. Clay will be looking for Gemma, and not understanding that. Tara is on the fence of everything just being too much, and who knows if Jax will blame her. And then there's the deputy that's right there for a hug... He is to Tara as Wade is to Gemma. Same dynamic, different generation.

Excellent writing, I'm so in awe.

I'm kind of glad they got off of Opie for a while, but you know that will come back...that only got put aside because of a common need to get Zobelle.

Edittorrent said...

John, I think most of the episodes are available at the FX tv site. Used to be, anyway!

Sharla, yes, the deputy and Tara... interesting. :)

Edittorrent said...

And what did you think of the Gemma-Tara relationship? That's great too-- they start out as enemies, both jealous about Jax, and then they become unwilling allies taking care of the baby, and then Tara has to become the caretaker when Gemma is raped, and in the end, Gemma embraces her == only to let her go and passing on the matriarch role and care of Jax and the baby.
Best Anti-heroine Ever.